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2015 NCAA Tournament: The Friday-Monday Turnaround

They don't call it March Madness for nothing.

Coach K is pointing Duke towards the top.
Coach K is pointing Duke towards the top.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE - There is an amazing aspect to Mike Krzyzewski's NCAA track record.

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It's only a small difference, but the fact is that overall, he's been better in the second game of each tournament weekend than in the first game. That small margin is significant because in almost every case, Duke is facing a tougher opponent on the second day than the first of any weekend.

He's 47-16 in games with a week of lead-in preparation … an excellent 74.6 winning percentage. But he's 36-10 in the games with less than 48 hours to prepare - a 78.3 winning percentage.

That suggests to me that over the years, he and his staff have mastered the art of the quick turnaround.

To be fair, the biggest gap in his record is between the Sweet 16 round (he's 13-8) and the Elite Eight round (he's 11-2 - with both losses coming to the eventual NCAA champions). He is actually better in the NCAA semifinals (8-3) than in the championship game (4-4).

As for the first weekend, it's close - 26-4 in round of 64 games (including Friday night's victory over Robert Morris) and 21-4 in round of 32 games. That's not quite as high a percentage - still, the gap between the quality of opponent in the opening game and the next round is the widest in the tournament. Over the years, Duke has been a No. 1 seed 13 times, meaning that half those tournament opening wins have come against teams with almost no chance to beat the Devils.

On the other hand, it's hard to remember an easy opponent in the round of 32. That's what makes that 21-4 record so impressive.

[Note: Coach K is actually 21-5 in the round of 32 - but one of those losses was in 1984 when Duke had a first-round bye, so it wasn't a quick turnaround.]

Duke's only real second round (round of 32) losses under K were:

1985 - No. 3 seed Duke lost to No. 11 Boston College (coached by Gary Williams), 74-73. Mark Alarie played that game hobbled with a hip pointer. The Devils were leading midway through the second half when David Henderson went down with a sprained ankle and the game turned.

1993 - No. 3 seed Duke lost to Jason Kidd and No. 6 seed Cal, 82-77. The Devils had to play the entire second half without center Cherokee Parks, who went down just before the break with an ankle injury.

1997 - No. 2 seed Duke lost to No. 10 seed Providence (coached by Pete Gillen), 98-87. It was simply a case of a red-hot Providence team burying a Duke team that had run out of gas.

2008 - No. 2 seed Duke lost to No. 7 seed West Virginia, 73-67. A Blue Devil teamed rumored to be plagued by flu - whether true of not, they played that way down the stretch -- couldn't cope with the quicker, stronger Mountaineers.

That suggests that Duke should be able to handle San Diego State Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. Of course, history offers no guarantees, but it is a good indicator - no matter how often Coach K and his players insist that this is a new team with its own history to write.


Youngsters may not remember Steve Fisher's sudden rise from obscurity to fame in the spring of 1989.

Fisher was an unknown assistant at Michigan under Bill Frieder as the 1989 season wound down. The Wolverines were a strong team - and would win a No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. But the week before the tournament, Fieder accepted an offer to coach at Arizona State the next season. He was still planning to coach Michigan into the NCAA Tournament.

But Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler had other ideas. Saying that he wanted "a Michigan man" coaching the team, he fired Frieder and appointed the 44-year-old Fisher to guide the team through the NCAA Tournament.

The team caught fire under Fisher. Riding the incredible hot streak of senior forward Glen Rice, the Wolverines reached the Sweet 16, where they met Virginia (which had just upset No. 1 seed Oklahoma in the round of 32) in Lexington, Ky. With Rice on fire, Michigan buried the Cavaliers, 102-65. Two nights later, Michigan defeated No. 2 seed UNC, 92-87, to advance to the Final Four.

[Time out for a piece of ACC history. North Carolina had edged Duke for the ACC championship in Atlanta. At the time, everyone was convinced that would earn the Tar Heels a spot in the East Regional. When UNC learned that Duke would stay in the East and they would have to go to the Southeast Region, Dean Smith blamed Duke athletic director Tom Butters, who was on the NCAA selection committee, for favoring the Blue Devils. Butters later explained that UNC was regarded as the strongest No. 2 seed and they didn't want to put the Heels in the same regional as the strongest No. 1 - Georgetown.

The night before UNC lost to red-hot Michigan in Lexington, Duke defeated a much weaker Minnesota team in the Sweet 16 in East Rutherford, N.J.

That sets the scene. Now return to the night of Mar. 25, 1989, just a few minutes after the Tar Heels had lost to Michigan. Two North Carolina reporters (Caulton Tudor and myself), were headed for the UNC locker room where we ran into Dean Smith, standing in a back hallway, puffing on a cigarette. As we offered our condolences, Smith answered, "Ahh, I'd have rather played Minnesota."

Now back to the Steve Fisher story.]

Both Duke and Michigan made it to the Final Four in Seattle that year as the Devils upset the formidable Georgetown Hoyas. But Fisher and Mike Krzyzewski didn't clash that weekend. Instead, Duke lost to Seton Hall in the semifinals, while Michigan beat Illinois and Seton Hall to win the national championship.

Fisher, who was regarded as an interim coach when he was appointed, had gone from being "a Michigan man" to a Michigan hero.

Coach K and Fisher would meet early the next season. The next December, Michigan scored a thrilling 113-108 victory over a young Duke team (one that was headed back to the Final Four). The next December, Krzyzewski would even his head-to-head record with Fisher with a victory in Cameron.

Everything changed in the rivalry the next December. Duke's defending national champions visited Ann Arbor to take on Fisher's Fab Five - five freshmen that would win national acclaim (but no titles). No. 1 Duke edged the Fab Five - headed by Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose (a trio not unlike Duke's current freshman crop of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones ) -in overtime. Three months later, Duke would face the Fab Five again in the national title game in Minneapolis. The rematch was close for 35 minutes, until Grant Hill led a Duke explosion and the Devils won going away, 71-51.

The Duke-Michigan (and Fisher-Krzyzewski) rivalry would continue. And Duke would continue to frustrate the Fab Five. In December of 1992, No. 1 Michigan came to Cameron, boasting of how they were going to exact revenge for the '92 title game … instead, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill beat the Fab Five again. A year later, it was down to the Fab Four as Webber had turned pro, but Duke went to Ann Arbor and beat Michigan again. The last three members of the Fab Five visited Cameron in December of 1994 and lost yet again.

So, all and all, Fisher's Fab Five finished 0-5 against the Devils. No wonder Jalen Rose resents Duke so much!

Shed of the Fab Five, Fisher did succeed in winning his last two matchups with Krzyzewski and Duke.

But he was fired by Michigan in the fall of 1997 due to the Ed Martin scandal (Martin was a Michigan booster who provided illegal benefits to a number of Michigan recruiting targets over the years).

Fisher was out of coaching one season before landing at San Diego State.

Since arriving in sunny Southern Cal, he's had one meeting with Coach K and Duke - losing 92-79 to a No. 1 Duke team in Cameron in December of 2001.

So overall, Fisher is 3-7 against Krzyzewski.

"We've been friends for a long time - even before the championship game in the early '90s," Krzyzewski said Saturday. "We're both old coaches who got into it for the right reason. He's been great for basketball."

The 70-year-old Fisher does have a very credible 26-13 record in NCAA play, although he's just 6-7 at San Diego State. That does include Sweet 16 appearances in 2011 and 2014.


On the season, San Diego State was a very poor 3-point shooting team. The Aztecs shots just 32.4 percent on an average of 15 3-point attempts per game. That would have tied Boston College for the 10th best 3-point percentage in the ACC.

The team's average of 5.2 3-pointers made per game would rank 12th in the ACC.

But there's a problem.

Friday night against St. John's, San Diego State hit 9-of-22 3-pointers - a very credible 40.9 percent .

Was that a fluke or a sign that the Aztecs have fixed their problem?

Arguing in favor of "a fluke" is the fact that SDSU hit just 4-of-17 3-pointers (23.5 percent) against Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference championship game against Wyoming. On the other hand, there are some strong 3-point performances on the team's record - including 7-of-14 in the MWC quarterfinals over UNLV and a 10-of-20 night in a February win at Wyoming.

So it does happen.

There's another reason to dismiss San Diego State's season-long struggles from the 3-point line - the return of senior wing Dwayne Polee II. The 6-7 forward collapsed with a cardiac arrhythmia during a win over UC Riverside on Dec. 22, and missed most of the season.

He was not a very good 3-point shooter when he went down - hitting just 20.4 percent of his 3-pointers (10-of-49). But since returning to action for the last seven games, he's hit 10-of-17 3-pointers, including five of seven attempts against St. John's.

"One of the things that changes for them is how Polee plays," Krzyzewski said. "He may be coming on. He gives them one more shooter. He stretches the floor and gives {senior J.J.] O'Brien more room to make plays."

Polee was almost single-handedly responsible for SDSU's good 3-point shooting against St. John's. Take away his 5-of-7 contribution and the rest of the team was a dismal 4-of-15 (26.7 percent).

So Polee needs to be a concern for the Duke defense.

One other point worth mentioning. As erratic as the Aztecs have been at shooting the 3-pointer, they are one of the best teams in the country at defending the 3 - allowing opponents to shoot just 30.0 percent from the arch - an average of just 5.0 made 3-pointers a game. Only Louisville and North Carolina defend the 3-pointer better in the ACC - although Virginia is just slightly behind the Aztecs.

"They have amazing length, incredible experience and are deep," Krzyzewski said. "You can't practice against length unless you have it. People are surprised how long and athletic they are."